By now, Turks have grown accustomed to being cast in the role of bit players in the one-man show, starring Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, that Turkish politics have become. This was perhaps best illustrated during the recent municipal election campaign, where the ruling Justice and Development Party's (AKP) rallies starred Erdogan rather than the local candidate, who, almost like an afterthought, was usually brought on stage after the PM's long speech to quietly wave at the crowd while standing in his leader's shadow.
Having successfully worked through the drama of the corruption allegations against him and his inner circle to emerge victorious in Sunday's vote, Erdogan is now facing something of a Hamlet moment: namely, to run or not to run in the August election for President?
After the AKP's strong win in the 2011 parliamentary elections, it was assumed that since his party's bylaws would keep him from running for a fourth term as PM, Erdogan's next move would be into the presidential palace, albeit after pushing through a new constitution that would grant the President increased powers. But since the AKP's efforts at constitutional reform and at creating a more powerful presidency have faltered, the new thinking has been that Erdogan is likely to push the AKP to scrap its term limit bylaws, which would allow him to remain PM and for the current President, Abdullah Gul, to run for reelection in August.
But could the AKP's strong showing in the local elections change Erdogan's calculus regarding his future plans? Writing in the Hurriyet Daily News, analyst Murat Yetkin suggests that might be the case:
After winning 45 percent support despite corruption allegations and bans on the Internet, Erdoğan’s self-confidence is sky-high. The victory speech he delivered on election night showed that he is determined more than ever to achieve his targets, whatever it takes.
Especially after the Gezi protests in June 2013 and the graft probe in December 2013, it was thought that Erdoğan could give up on the idea of becoming president with a 50 percent, plus one vote and keep his prime ministerial post for another term by simply and easily change the party bylaw prohibiting more than three consecutive terms.
Now the picture might be different. Erdoğan could even think about changing the Constitution through a referendum to add more powers to the presidency and to secure 50 percent, he could increase the authority of local administrations, which could satisfy some of the demands for Kurdish autonomy raised by Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), in his dialogue with the government in pursuit of a political solution to the Kurdish issue.
Another option for Erdoğan could be to secure an alliance with Kurds or with another political partner and go to Çankaya with the existing presidential powers (actually there is a lot of power to be used there) and with no responsibility, with a not-so-powerful prime minister.
Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc, one of the AKP's co-founders, said in a television interview today that he believed the road to Cankaya -- the Ankara neighborhood where the president's residence is located and shorthand for the position -- is open to Erdogan. Reports the Hurriyet Daily News:
“Until March 30, a conviction suggesting ‘the road to Çankaya is closed to Erdoğan’ had erupted among opposition leaders and even some columnists,” Arınç said....
....“But March 30 showed that the road to Çankaya is open. If we had held a general election today, in my opinion, we wouldn’t get less than 50 percent. If today’s trend goes on, I believe that he can get 51 percent in the first round comfortably,” Arınç said. “The president would not object to this decision if Erdoğan wants it,” he reiterated.
Still, it's not clear if the ambitious Erdogan would want to occupy the President's office without the enhanced powers he once envisioned for it (unless he can arrange for a lackey to become PM). Making the office a more powerful one would require passing constitutional amendments with a two-thirds vote in parliament, a majority the AKP doesn't posses (the party could try send them to a national referendum with a three-fifths vote, but is also short of that number and the opposition is certainly in no mood to help Erdogan out). And, as Reuters points out, winning the presidential vote would require Erdogan to have the support of the Kurds, which would mean offering some major concessions as part of the ongoing peace process between them and the government, putting another significant hurdle in front of Erdogan's Cankaya ambitions.
Either way, regardless of if he decides to run for President or stay as PM, it's clear that Erdogan plans on remaining the central fixture in Turkish political life for a long time to come. The one-man show will go on.